Archive for Mailbag
Got eight questions for you this week, some with long-ish answers and some with short answers. If you want to send us anything, mailbag questions or otherwise, use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.
JoeyA asks: How much would TANAK get on the open market RIGHT NOW. My guess: more than 7/155.
Yeah, I’m pretty sure Masahiro Tanaka would fetch more than seven years and $155M right now. He’s legitimately pitching like an ace (2.17 ERA and 2.81 FIP) because he doesn’t walk anyone (1.09 BB/9 and 3.1 BB%) and he misses a ton of bats (10.24 K/9 and 29.5 K%). Tanaka’s been durable throughout his career, he’s adjusted to the different ball and five-day schedule just fine, and he’s only 25 years old. Plus he’s a stone cold killer on the mound. Absolutely nothing rattles him. He would be a seriously hot commodity on the open market now that he’s shown he can handle MLB.
Tanaka’s contract (not counting the release fee) is already the fourth largest pitching contract in baseball history. I don’t think he’d get Clayton Kershaw money (seven years, $215M) if he was a free agent right now, but Felix Hernandez (seven years, $175M) and Justin Verlander (seven years, $180M) money seems very doable. That said, none of those three were free agents, they all signed extensions. Tanaka would be able to create a bidding war, so maybe $200M isn’t out of the question. I think Max Scherzer’s headed for $200M this winter and he turns 30 in July. Wouldn’t you rather have Tanaka’s age 25-31 seasons over Scherzer’s age 30-36 seasons?
Stephen asks: CC Sabathia‘s xFIP is 3.14, good for 21st in the bigs. Since the purpose of xFIP is to normalize home run rates, do you see a large regression coming for the big guy? How is it possible for a guy with his peripherals to be this bad? Tanaka is actually leading the xFIP leaderboard, due to his bloated HR rate. Is it possible that he’s going to get even better as the season progresses?
I am absolutely not a fan of xFIP because it does normalize homer rates to the league average. Why are we doing that, exactly? We know pitchers give up homers at different rates so why would we expect them to regress back to the rest of the league? You’re better off comparing a pitcher’s homer rate to his recent performance.
For example, Sabathia has a 23.3% HR/FB rate this year, which is way higher than last season (13.0%) and the last three seasons (11.3% from 2011-13). At the same time, he’s given up some serious bombs this year — Hit Tracker says eight of Sabathia’s ten homers allowed were “no doubters” or had “plenty,” basically meaning they were crushed. One was “just enough” and barely got over the wall. The other was Wil Myers’ inside the park homer — and that indicates hitters are squaring him up well. The 23.3% HR/FB rate is insane (would be the highest in MLB history by a mile) and I would expect it come down some, but given the swings hitters are taking against him, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a true talent 15-16% HR/FB guy now, especially in Yankee Stadium. The AL average is 9.4% this year and it feels like it would take a miracle for Sabathia to get his homer rate down that far at this point of his career. Long story short: I’m not an xFIP fan at all.
Spencer asks: I know it’s a tad premature, but how does the contract Yangervis Solarte has work? Does he become a free agent this year? Also, suppose he has the same slash line as he has now at the end of the season what would you sign him for?
This is the first time Solarte has been in the big leagues, so the Yankees still have his full six years of team control. Assuming he never goes back to the minors, he’ll earn something close to the league minimum from 2014-16, then go through arbitration from 2017-19. Solarte can not qualify for free agency until after the 2019 season at the earliest, when he will be 32 years old.
As for signing him long-term … I think it might be too early for that. Solarte’s been awesome, don’t get me wrong, but given his out of nowhere emergence from mediocre minor league journeyman to impact big leaguer, I think you need to see if he does it again next season before committing real money to him. If he’d agree to something like five years and $10M after the season (say $550k, $750k, $1.5M, $2.9M, $4.3M from 2015-19), then hell yeah, do it. He might jump at the guaranteed payday after toiling in the minors so long. At worst he’d be an expensive bench player four years down the line. The Yankees have a ton of money and can roll the dice by waiting a year to see if this is the real Solarte though.
Chris asks: Any thoughts at a run at Mike Moustakas? He’s off to an awful start and they are talking of sending him back to the minors.
I think the Yankees should call and ask, sure. Moustakas is off to a dreadful start (53 wRC+ going into last night’s game) and he simply can’t hit lefties, either this year (.198 wOBA) or throughout his relatively short big league career (.267 wOBA), so he’s basically a platoon player. He does have left-handed pop and he’s made himself into a strong defender at the hot corner, plus he is only 25 and it wasn’t that long ago that he was considered one of the ten best prospects in baseball. Maybe hitting coach Kevin Long can help him take him to the next level like he did Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson (and Solarte?).
The Royals are not the cellar-dwellers they once were, or at least they aren’t acting like that anymore. They’re trying to win right now, this year, before James Shields leaves as a free agent. I don’t think they’ll trade their starting third baseman — they have some internal candidates to replace him, so trading Moustakas is not necessarily a crazy idea — for a handful of prospects. They’ll want help for the big league team in return. Kansas City could probably use another outfielder and another starting pitcher. There’s no way I’d give up Brett Gardner for Moose Tacos and I doubt Zoilo Almonte or Ichiro Suzuki would cut it. As for the pitching, hah. The Yankees have zero to spare. He’s worth a phone call but I’m not sure there’s a good trade fit at this moment.
Mike P. asks: Under the new replay system, let’s say the HQ in New York tells the umpires a batter is safe at first, but the umpires watch the scoreboard replay and think he’s out. Do they have to follow the call from NYC or can they make their own judgment?
It’s all done in the Midtown office, the reviews and the decision. They just relay the call through the headsets. I don’t believe the on-field umpires have the authority to make the call either once it goes to review, that would defeat the purpose.
Daniel asks: You mentioned being sort of iffy on the decision to give Tino Martinez a plaque. Are there any of the other plaques or retired numbers that you disagree with or that at least are strange to you?
Here’s the list of monuments, plaques, and retired numbers. None of them stand out to me as odd but most of those guys played or managed or whatever long before my time. I think there’s a “feel” element to this stuff. You can’t just set some arbitrary WAR threshold and say guys over this number get a plaque, guys over this number get their number retired, so on and so forth. The guy has to feel like he belongs in Monument Park. You know I mean. Tino was awesome for the Yankees for six years, but was he an all-time great Yankee? Not a chance. I think others like Willie Randolph, Bobby Murcer, and Joe Gordon (Hall of Famer!) are more deserving of plaques. That’s just my opinion though. Everyone is welcome to feel differently.
Dan asks: Do you think Peter O’Brien has reached his top level this season? He got a quick promotion. If he keeps hitting like he did in High-A could he make it to AAA this year?
O’Brien was promoted quickly because he spent the second half of last season in High-A as well, it wasn’t just a few weeks early this year. That said, yes I definitely think another promotion may come later this season. Not right away, O’Brien needs some time to catch his breath and get comfortable in Double-A, but in August or so? Sure, bump him up if he’s still raking. Guys like him — drafted as a college senior, ton of power, lots of strikeouts, never walks, still trying to find a position — are the ones teams should promote aggressively because you’re not going to know what you have until he gets to the highest levels of the minors. He’s not someone like, say, Luis Torrens, who is trying to learn to catch high-end velocity and get through the grind of a full season. Give O’Brien like two months in Double-A then see where he’s at.
Sanchez still needs to work on his catching and I mean just about everything. Footwork, receiving, throwing, the whole nine. I think they should let him focus on improving behind the plate because that is where he’s most valuable. Who’s to say McCann won’t be a full-time DH and Murphy won’t be a bust by time Sanchez is ready? We’re still a long way away from worrying how he fits onto the roster and I think the odds of him being traded are much higher than the odds of him wearing pinstripes for more than a few weeks. When he gets to Triple-A and it looks like he might be ready to help the MLB team, that’s when I’d worry about his position. For now, leave him behind the plate and let him learn.
Big mailbag this week. Ten questions, so I tried my best to keep the answers short. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything and everything at anytime.
Daniel asks: I know the whole spiel about him being a smart, patient hitter with postseason experience and success as a clutch hitter. But, are you honestly at all worried about the way Carlos Beltran has looked thus far? This is year one.
I’m not worried yet, but I would be lying if I said Beltran’s age and the potential for a rapid decline wasn’t in the back of my mind. His slump can be traced almost exactly to the day he flipped over the wall in Tampa. He went into that game hitting .327/.368/.673 (176 wRC+) in 57 plate appearances, flipped over the wall, sat out a game after having an MRI on his shoulder and wrist (came back clean), and has hit .172/.229/.266 (33 wRC+) in 70 plate appearances since. Maybe the fall fouled him up and his shoulder isn’t 100% even though there’s no structural damage. At least then we’d have an explanation for the slump. I’m not worried yet but I am monitoring the situation. That’s probably the best way to put it.
Uke asks: Assuming the Yankees let Ichiro Suzuki and Alfonso Soriano walk after this season and make Beltran the semi-permanent DH, who could take over the RF AB’s? Do Adonis Garcia and Ramon Flores have a role on this team next year?
These are the Yankees, so we can’t rule out a free agent signing as Plan A. This offseason’s crop of free agent outfielders includes Melky Cabrera, Seth Smith, Colby Rasmus, Norichika Aoki, Nelson Cruz, Michael Cuddyer, and Nate Schierholtz, among others. I don’t think re-signing Soriano will be off the table either. Among internal candidates, I would think Zoilo Almonte is first in line for regular playing time. Slade Heathcott and maybe Tyler Austin could be factors if they get healthy, stay healthy, and play well the rest of the season. Flores has been dynamite in Triple-A — it’s interesting he’s spending time at first base again, they might be letting him get re-familiar with the position before a potential big league role later this year — and he’d be in the mix as well. I’m not really buying Garcia as an MLB option, but that’s just my opinion. Because we’re talking about the Yankees, I’d bet on those right field at-bats going to player acquired from outside the organization.
Anthony asks: Do you think that the Yankees would ever demote CC Sabathia to the bullpen if he continues to struggle? Mike Mussina, borderline Hall of Famer, was once demoted to the bullpen in an effort to figure stuff out. If Sabathia continues to pitch poorly, is it crazy to think he could be in the bullpen for a week or two?
I do think they would send Sabathia to the bullpen — Mussina got clobbered in three straight starts (20 runs in 9.2 combined) and was sent to the bullpen for exactly one appearance before rejoining the rotation back in late-August/early-September in 2007 — but I don’t think they’re there yet, not even after last season. For starters, they don’t really have anyone to take his rotation spot right now. They’d have to wait until Michael Pineda returns. Sabathia’s also four years younger than Moose was in 2007 and I think there’s less of a “holy cow he might be done forever” panic. I think we might see him skip a start first, then a stint in the bullpen. Sabathia’s made adjustments and has had stretches when he’s looked pretty damn good this year (usually four or five innings within a game), but nothing seems to be working.
Shep asks: If you had to pick one player on an MLB roster to be a player-manager, now or in the future, who would it be?
Pete Rose was the last player-manager (1984-86 Reds) and I don’t think we’ll ever seen another one again. There’s too much that goes into managing these days between running Spring Training, keeping tabs on workloads, looking up splits, shift data, the whole nine. Doing all of that and preparing to play seems like too much for one person, even with an excellent coaching staff. That said, if I had to pick someone to do it today, I’d probably go with Yadier Molina. That is based on nothing in particular, he just seems like a good candidate. Justin Verlander maybe? A starting pitcher-manager might work best since he’s sitting on the bench doing nothing four out of every five games anyway. I could maybe see the Mets trying it with David Wright. Maybe. Fun to think about.
Kristofer asks: Given both the uncertainty of the 3B position in the years to come and the fact that the Yankees are willing to extend big money to international players still in their 20s, is Jeong Choi a possibility for them this offseason? How does he project?
Choi, 27, was recently dubbed the “David Wright of Korea,” and Jon Heyman reported that he intends to come to MLB as a free agent next year. No posting system nonsense or anything, he’s a true free agent. Choi is hitting only .268/.343/.383 with three homers in 32 games this season, but it’s early and last year he put up a .316/.429/.551 batting line with 28 homers. He’s hit along those lines since 2010. Keith Law was on our podcast recently and said he heard the David Wright comparisons aren’t accurate at all, and that Choi is more of a utility infielder than anything in MLB. That’s just one opinion and it’s pretty much all we have on the guy. I do think the Yankees will check in on him just because he plays a position of need, but I would expect them to target a known quantity (Chase Headley, Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, etc.) if they’re going to drop decent money on help at the hot corner.
Joe asks: Which prospect has come from nowhere to turn heads so far this year?
I don’t think the Yankees have had one of those guys this year, someone like 2006 Edwar Ramirez or 2008 Al Aceves, who just showed up in a box score one day and dominated right away. 1B Mike Ford with Low-A Charleston might fit the bill. He was an undrafted free agent out of Princeton and is hitting .327/.400/.475 so far. Maybe RHP Jaron Long, hitting coach Kevin Long’s son? He’s got a 3.33 ERA (2.61 FIP) with a 20/5 K/BB in 24.1 innings for the River Dogs this year. He’ll probably wind up with High-A Tampa later this year after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Ohio State.
nycsportzfan asks: Hey Mike, was wondering what kinda heater Tyler Webb has, and who has more promise between Webb and Dietrich Enns?
Enns, the team’s 19th round pick in 2012, had that ridiculous first half with Low-A Charleston last season (0.61 ERA and 1.52 FIP in 44.1 innings) before coming back to Earth in the second half, and he’s a low-90s fastball guy with both a curveball and a changeup. Webb has been solid since being the club’s tenth rounder last year, pitching to a 3.62 ERA (~2.25 FIP) in 49.2 innings. He’s another low-90s guy with a slider, plus he supposedly hides the ball well with his delivery. I’m not sure who has more potential between the two — they are both fringy prospects, to be sure — but I think Webb’s two-pitch mix might help him get to the show as a lefty specialist.
Jack asks: Nick Rumbelow, Nick Goody, Danny Burawa, Mark Montgomery, Diego Moreno, Branden Pinder. Can you offer your assessment of any of them ever making any significant impact (to the extent that a reliever is able) in the bigs? They all seem to be pretty good prospects (and actually putting up good numbers).
Moreno’s not a prospect. He’ll turn 27 in July and is a pure arm strength guy. The other guys are prospects and you could almost pick names out a hat if you want to rank them. Montgomery’s prospect shine has dimmed following last year’s shoulder trouble, and of course Goody just came back from Tommy John surgery. Burawa has had some non-arm injuries and probably has the nastiest pure stuff of the group — he was pumping 97-98 with a 90 mph slider in camp — though Montgomery’s slider is the best individual pitch, if that makes sense. Rumbelow has mid-90s heat and a good curveball, and so far this year he has 18 strikeouts in nine innings with Low-A Charleston. Pinder’s a fastball/slider pitcher who lags behind the other non-Moreno guys for me. Goody, Burawa, Montgomery, and Rumbelow can definitely be late-inning relievers at the MLB level if everything comes together. They’re not quite what David Robertson was during his prospect days but they’re not far off either.
Drew asks: When was the last time that Derek Jeter batted not in a top 3 lineup spot? Rookie season? Mid-90s?
The last time Jeter started a game in a lineup spot lower than third was July 10th, 1999, when he batted cleanup against the Mets. Here’s the box score. That was a one-game thing. He batted third or higher every other game that season. Before that, you have to go back to the second to last game of the 1997 season, when he batted seventh. Here’s that box score. And finally, the last time Jeter started a game as a nine-hole hitter was the final game of the 1996 season. Here is that box score. My hunch is no, we won’t see Jeter bat lower than third this season.
Liz asks: Given Jeter’s retirement at the end of the season, who do you see stepping in (and up) to fill the Captain’s shoes?
Do you mean the next captain of the team? The Yankees went eight years between Don Mattingly’s retirement and naming Jeter captain, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if there was a similar (or even longer) wait this time. I don’t see an obvious captain on the roster right now — what the hell do I know about what goes on in the clubhouse anyway? — and that’s not a knock on the guys on the roster. I just don’t think the Yankees will rush into naming another captain. They’ll want it to be someone who will be around for a while and I’m sure they’re prefer a homegrown player. That’s not a must, just a preference. My bold next captain prediction: John Ryan Murphy. Boom.
Only six questions this week — not including yesterday’s Mark Teixeira question — but they’re good ones. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week.
Mads asks: Might the injury to Michael Pineda be a blessing in disguise? If the Yankees were to make it deep into the playoffs, he would still be available to them, since he hasn’t reached his innings limit. So it might not be so bad that he is out for a couple of weeks.
Maybe. We said the same thing about Bartolo Colon‘s hamstring injury a few years ago, but he came off the DL and wasn’t nearly as effective. He admitted to being apprehensive about cutting it loose after getting hurt. There’s always a chance Pineda will come off the DL and not be the same pitcher, so who knows if he’ll even be worthy of a rotation spot late in the season? His injury is a concern given its proximity to his surgically repaired shoulder too. The Yankees definitely needed to monitor Pineda’s workload this season but now it’s out of their hands for at least a few weeks. It might help keep him fresh deep into September and possibly October, sure, but there’s also a chance it completely derails his season.
Dan asks: Looking back on it now, since we have at least a little bit of a contribution to point to from Pineda, and also the hope of more to come, would you prefer the deal that brought in Pineda over the failed one for Cliff Lee the year before? I mean, Zach McAllister still was sent away in a complete waste of a trade for Austin Kearns, and David Adams is still David Adams. I don’t really know to be honest. Is it still too early to tell?
As the story goes, the Yankees and Mariners had agreed to a trade that would have sent Lee to New York back in July 2010. Jesus Montero, David Adams, and Zach McAllister were the package going to Seattle. However, Adams was still on the mend from his traumatic ankle injury at the time, and the Mariners balked once they reviewed his medicals. They asked for Eduardo Nunez instead and the Yankees weren’t happy they reneged after essentially having a handshake agreement in place. They said no and that was that.
The Yankees had the best record in baseball at the time of the non-trade and they had just won the World Series the year before, so they were still a league superpower with legit championship aspirations. They eventually lost the ALCS to Lee and his new Rangers teammates. Obviously we have no idea how things would have played out had the Yankees landed the southpaw, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say their chances of winning the World Series would have gone from very good to super duper good.
Because of that, I would have rather made that deal than the Pineda deal. It doesn’t have anything to do with Pineda’s shoulder and his recent back issue. The Yankees were on the cusp of a second straight AL pennant without Lee and he could have put them over the top. I’m in favor of adding the impact player when you’re that close to a title. Lee would have only been a rental and Pineda may potential be a good long-term piece for the Yankees, but flags fly forever. Remember: we’re tryin’ to win a ring around here.
Kerwin asks: Can you explain why CC Sabathia has such a distaste for Jackie Bradley Jr.? Is there history between the two?
Hah, I have no idea but it seems mostly harmless and kinda funny. I think it stems from Opening Day 2013, when Bradley went 0-for-1 with two walks against Sabathia. CC appeared to call him a “punk ass motherf**ker” after striking him out in a game later in the season, and since them he’s always seemed to have disdain for Bradley. Last week Sabathia hit him with a pitch — it looked like a breaking ball that got away, so not intentional — and then gave him a mouthful after Bradley stared him down. I don’t know how or why it started, but Sabathia’s beef with Bradley seems like a real thing. For what it’s worth, Bradley is 0-for-8 with those two walks and five strikeouts against CC, so maybe the big lefty is in his head.
New Guy asks: Any updates on Andrew Bailey? I know he’s a David Aardsma type reclamation project, but man. Sure would be nice if he could give the pen a boost later in the year.
The last update I saw on Bailey came way back in the middle of March, when it was reported he was playing catch from 90 feet and hoped to stretch it out to 120 feet within the next week. Hopefully he’s done that by now. Bailey had his shoulder capsule repaired in late-July and it comes with a year-long rehab process. Usually longer, but maybe his rehab will be shorter because he’s only a reliever. The Yankees have maintained that if he does pitch this year, it probably won’t be until September. The structure of his contract — minor league deal with a club option for 2015 — indicates the signing was made with an eye on next year, similar to the Jon Lieber and Aardsma signings a few years ago.
Chris asks: Any thought at a run at Mark Buehrle? He would come cheaper than Cliff Lee. No?
I have to imagine Buehrle would come cheaper, yes. He’s off to a very strong start this year (2.25 ERA and 3.21 FIP), but he’ll revert back to the same ol’ Mark Buehrle once his 2.6 HR/FB% rate returns to its career norms (~10%). His strikeout and walk rates are the same as they always were. Buehrle is owed $18M this season and $19M next season, so he’s not cheap, plus the Blue Jays have made it clear they don’t like trading within the division unless they’re blown away. Maybe that isn’t the case with Buehrle and they’d just be happy to shed his salary. Buehrle isn’t great but he’s pretty reliable and would be an upgrade for the Yankees. I just don’t know if acquiring him from an AL East rival is all that realistic.
Donny asks: After seeing Yangervis Solarte go through his first mini-slump of the season and reading/hearing analysts describe teams pitching him differently with more offspeed stuff, it got me wondering: what does the pitch f/x data look like now compared to the beginning of the season? Does this data support those analyses? Or is this simply a hot bat normalizing to the player Solarte actually is?
Anecdotally, it seemed like Solarte was starting to see more offspeed pitches in the middle of last month, after teams got a look at him and realized they would need something more than a fastball to get him out. After going 12-for-28 (.429) to start the season, Solarte has gone only 12-for-51 (.235) since. The good news is that he is still walking and making contact — 2/2 K/BB in the first eight games, 11/10 K/BB since — so he hasn’t been completely lost at the plate.
Yangervis played 22 games prior to last night — couldn’t wait around for the various PitchFX sites to update overnight, so last night’s game is not included in the table below — and let’s break his season down into two seven game segments and one eight game segment to see how he’s being pitched. Courtesy of Brooks Baseball:
|All Counts||Solarte Ahead||Pitcher Ahead|
Obligatory reminder that we are talking about very small samples here, so don’t take these numbers to heart. We’re just looked at them for fun.
Anyway, contrary to the theory that he was seeing more offspeed stuff, pitchers have generally thrown Solarte more fastballs as the season has progressed. The pitch type linear weights at FanGraphs show Yangervis has been most effective against curveballs and sliders and least effective against the various fastballs (four-seamer, two-seamer, sinker, cutter), so I guess it makes sense that pitchers are throwing him fewer breaking balls in recent weeks. Solarte has trouble with the heat, it seems. What did we ever do before we could look this stuff up? Hooray facts.
The mailbag is our Friday staple, but this week we received a question worth its own post.
Jonathan asks: Hey Mike, have you noticed any change in Mark Teixeira‘s stance so far? He’s standing up much more straight with less of a crouch and his hands are starting in a lower position.
I hadn’t noticed anything different until I read Jonathan’s question the other day, so I paid extra attention during Tuesday night’s game against the Mariners. Sure enough, it looks like Teixeira has changed his setup at the plate. To the action GIFs:
That is 2013 on the left and 2014 on the right, both homerun swings (not that the outcome matters much, but just in case) and both at Yankee Stadium so the camera angle is the same. I’m not much when it comes to media editing and all that, but I did my best to sync the two GIFs at the moment his front foot hits the ground.
There are definitely some differences between last year and this year, as Jonathan pointed out. Four that I see, in fact.
- Closed Stance: Teixeira’s front foot was further away from the plate than his back foot last season. He’d been like his entire career. The same is still true this year, but it isn’t nearly as exaggerated.
- More Upright: Look at his knees. He was in a bit more of a crouch last season. This year he’s standing close to straight up.
- Lower Hands: They wind up in the same place once he starts to load his swing, but Teixeira has brought his hands out in front of his body before the pitch is delivered. Before they were almost behind his head.
- Follow-Through: Last year Teixeira still had his big one-handed follow-through. This year it’s a more compact two-handed follow-through.
Do those adjustments sound familiar? They should. You’re a bad fan if they don’t. (Not really.) Those are the same exact adjustments Curtis Granderson made when he revamped his batting stance in August 2010 and turned into one of the game’s premier power hitters almost literally overnight. Here’s a pair of screen caps from a post I wrote about Granderson’s overhaul back in the day:
Granderson’s very first at-bat of the 2010 season is on the left (homer off Josh Beckett!) and an at-bat from August 2010 is on the right. It’s from the series immediately after he went through his crash course with hitting coach Kevin Long, so right after Curtis went through the overhaul.
The camera angle isn’t the same but you can see Granderson closed his stance and dropped his hands, pretty drastically too. Much more than Teixeira. (Lower hands is a classic adjustment players make in an effort to get their bat moving quicker.) He is not standing more upright, though he did replace his one-handed follow-through with a two-handed follow-through. I’m not going to make a GIF of that; I trust you remember Grandy following through with two hands these last few years.
Kevin Long noticed that Teixeira had been letting the bat go early when he hit lefty, protecting his right wrist in the process. Teixeira said he fell into that habit last year when he tried to play through the injury, but until Long picked it up on video earlier in the week, he didn’t realize it was still happening.
“Lefthanded, mentally I have to continue to remember that it’s healthy now and even though it might be a little bit tight, and every now and then it’s a little bit sore, I can still take that full swing,” Teixeira said. “It was unbelievable how early I was letting go of my (left) hand to protect the (right) wrist. Just really a bad mechanical thing.”
Long and Teixeira worked on the adjustment in the cage and during batting practice, but it wasn’t until Thursday’s game against the Pirates in Bradenton that the first baseman truly felt he let loose during his lefthanded at-bats.
“It looked like a whole different animal,” Long said. “The problem is it wasn’t allowing him to drive the ball and he was cutting his swing off. I can’t tell you how positive the Bradenton game was for him and for us.
That’s the kinda thing I read in Spring Training and completely ignore. We hear that sorta stuff everyday and most of it means nothing, both short and long-term. Teixeira has noticeably revamped his stance though, and both he and the hitting coach talked about making adjustments back in camp. The early returns are positive too: .231/.375/.487 (140 wRC+) with three homers in 48 plate appearances this season, including two homers in his last two games. Suddenly that little blurb from March seems more meaningful.
Teixeira is a switch-hitter, but his left-handed swing has been the concern in recent years. I didn’t bother to look to see if he changed his righty stance as well. He never stopped mashing lefties (144 wRC+ from 2011-13), so there was never a reason to worry about him from that side of the plate. Teixeira’s production against righties took a hit though (104 wRC+ from 2011-13), plus a right wrist injury is more worrisome for a lefty hitter. The front arm is the power arm, so if any part of that is compromised, it’s tough to drive the ball. Teixeira has hit those two homers off righty pitchers the last two games, which is encouraging.
Will the adjustments Teixeira made this year be as effective as the ones Granderson made in 2010? Man that would be so cool. It is the same basic stuff, after all. Closed stance, lower hands, two-handed follow-through, etc. That said, no. Probably not. Granderson’s fix was 95th percentile stuff. Turning into a 40+ homer guy with a few mechanical tweaks is damn near the best case scenario. I wouldn’t expect the same results from Teixeira just because they made the same adjustments. They are two different players at two different points of their careers.
Still, can this new stance help Teixeira regain some of his lost production as a left-handed batter? It’s possible and I hope so. There’s really no way of knowing at this point though. Teixeira wasn’t bad in his last full, healthy season (116 wRC+), he just wasn’t as good as he had been during his prime. The easiest way for him to improve his overall production is to improve against righties, and these recent changes could help him do just that. Hopefully this recent power surge is a sign of things to come and an indication Teixeira’s new batting stance is paying real dividends.
Got a dozen questions for you this week, including a bunch about prospects. We’re starting to get an overwhelming amount of questions each week — I had over 50 marked for consideration this week — and I’m trying to answer as many as I can each Friday. Don’t take it personally if yours is not included. Keep sending them in.
Brendan asks: If some of these prospects stay hot (Aaron Judge), when is the earliest we could expect a call up?
Judge is the one guy who I think will get moved up sooner rather than later. The Yankees said they started him with Low-A Charleston because he didn’t play at all after signing last year and they wanted to take it slow, but now that he’s showing no rust and is raking, a quick move up to High-A Tampa is in order. As for other everyone else, I think we’re still a good two months or so away. The season is young and most promotions don’t come until midseason, after each league’s All-Star Game.
Jagielo, no doubt. It would still be Jagielo for me even if Bichette had hit well these last two years. I have less questions about Jagielo’s all-around offensive game as well as his defense. Maybe Bichette will have a higher offensive peak if it all works out, but I think Jagielo projects to be the better all-around player and it really isn’t all that close. Bichette’s been great this year, but three weeks do not erase the last two years.
Upstate Yanks asks: When are we going to see Mark Montgomery come up? Could be a future late-inning guy no?
Probably in the second half and yes. I actually think I ranked him too high in my Preseason Top 30 — Danny Burawa jumped him on the depth chart before getting hurt — and I’m not quite as bullish as I was last year at this time. The slider still misses bats though, and has long as that continues to happen, he’ll project to be a late-inning arm.
Glenn asks: I know he’s only been in the system a short time but it always seems like Caleb Smith is putting up nice numbers. Is there potential in him for the future?
Oh yes, absolutely. Smith might be the best sleeper in the organization right now. The Yankees grabbed him out of Sam Houston State with their 14th round pick last year, gave him $100k, and he has a 1.78 ERA (~2.24 FIP) with a 26.7% strikeout rate in 65.2 pro innings. That was before yesterday’s 13-strikeout performance. The walks are a bit high (9.2%) but Smith is a big lefty (listed at 6-foot-3 and 200 lbs.) with a low-to-mid-90s fastball and two legit offspeed pitches (low-80s slider and changeup). Is he the next Randy Johnson? No, but there’s legit MLB potential there.
Dan asks: Peter O’Brien is hitting the cover off the ball, what are the chances he gets called up to AA this year? Since he seems to be completely blocked at C, do you see the Yankees moving his position? Same questions for Gary Sanchez: if his bat can make an impact in the next couple of years, is there any chance they try him out at a different position, because he’s blocked by McCann? Do you see him being promoted to AAA this year?
O’Brien to Double-A will definitely happen at some point. That will be one of the midseason promotions I mentioned earlier. He’ll eventually move off catcher because he’s a pretty bad catcher, not because he’s blocked. O’Brien worked out at third base last year but that didn’t work. They’re giving right field a try early this year. I assume first base is next. As for Gary Sanchez, he should stay behind the plate as long as possible regardless of Brian McCann and whoever else is ahead of him on the depth chart. He’s way more valuable there. Let him develop behind the plate and worry about where he fits into the MLB roster when the time comes. If nothing else, staying behind the plate makes him more attractive to other teams in trades. As for the promotion to Triple-A Scranton, yeah I think that will happen later this summer.
Jack asks: Among the following 4: a) would you rank the most likely (if any) to succeed as a major league regular, and b) has the ability to stick at 3B at the majors: Jagielo, DBJ, Andujar, Austin.
To answer the first question, I’d rank them Jagielo, Tyler Austin, Miguel Andujar, and Bichette. I had Austin over Jagielo in my Preseason Top 30 but they were right next too each other (almost interchangeable) and Austin has dealt with some injury problems in recent weeks. As for sticking at third base, I’d have them Jagielo, Andujar, Austin, and Bichette. I’m not married to the order of the last two and I wouldn’t argue Bichette over Austin. Jagielo and Andujar are legit third baseman. The other guys are maybes at the position who are better off elsewhere.
Paul asks: Too early, I know, but so far the only Yankees worthy of All-Star berths are Masahiro Tanaka and maybe Jacoby Ellsbury, right? Nobody else is standing out to me. Who do you think the fans will vote for? Derek Jeter seems like a good shot considering he’s Jeter and has avoided falling on his face. Anyone else?
I think Jeter will win the fan vote by a mile at shortstop. Who will take votes from him? Jose Reyes? That’s the only other reasonable candidate and he’s hurt all the time. The current AL shortstop landscape is a wasteland. Jeter has hit well this year and I think he’ll go to the All-Star Game. Tanaka and Ellsbury are both worthy right now — Ellsbury’s not a maybe for me, he’s been too good to be on the bubble — and I think Carlos Beltran will get some consideration, though there are always a ton of qualified outfielders. McCann also has a shot, especially if his recent offensive surge is a sign he’s getting back to being himself at the plate. The AL catching crop is weak, though Jason Castro and Matt Wieters are legitimate alternatives.
Matt asks: Could the Yankees look to make a deal with the Cubs for Starlin Castro, being that he had sort of a rocky season last year with the organization, and the presence of their prospect Javier Baez (though he is struggling now) seemingly on the way? Obviously depending on how he performs, what do you think it would take to get a deal done for Castro at the end of the season?
Yes, I think so. Obviously it depends how he rebounds from that disaster last year. Castro isn’t a shortstop — I don’t know what he is, really. Maybe a second baseman? — and he’s a hacker at the plate, but he has some power and speed. He also just turned 24, so he’s still very young with the potential for improvement. The contract is scary if you don’t think he’ll rebound (owed $49M through 2019), but that’s the Cubs’ problem. I’m interested but I want to see what happens this year. There haven’t been many players like Castro traded over the years, so figuring out what it would take to get him is mighty tough. How do you value him? As a future star or just an okay infielder?
New Guy asks: Now that Ivan Nova is out for a while, what would it take to make Jeff Samardzija a Yankee? I’ve always liked him and he is always liked to trade rumors. Are you interested?
I was about a year ago, but Samardzija didn’t improve much (if at all) last season and this year is more of the same. His strikeout rate this year is actually way, way down, but it is still very early. Samardzija strikes me as a classic “whole is less than the sum of the parts” guy, like Edwin Jackson and A.J. Burnett. The stuff says he should be an ace and you keep waiting for him to turn into an ace, but he leaves you waiting and waiting. All while he’ll show enough flashes to keep you interested. Samardzija is affordable ($5.345M in 2014, free agent after 2015) and he’s a fine mid-rotation horse, but he’s already 29 and I’m not sure how much longer you can wait for him to live up to the potential. The Cubs are marketing him as an ace and he just isn’t that.
Josh asks: You just did a piece of the Yanks trying to make a move for Cliff Lee. What do you think about Kyle Kendrick. Younger, and would come a lot cheaper. Hasn’t had a great start, but maybe they could buy low.
I’m not a fan of Kendrick. He’s a solid back of the rotation type who limits walks and gets grounders, but he is surprisingly expensive ($7.675M this year) and I’m not sure an upper-80s sinker/low-80s changeup righty is someone I trust in the AL East. I’d rather give David Phelps a try before giving up prospects for Kendrick. Lee is (still) an elite pitcher and I’m not a fan of cutting corners when it comes to those guys. Play the price and add a true difference maker. No one gets upset over traded prospects in October.
Joe asks: Watching the Yankees so far this season, they are definitely going 1st to 3rd and 2nd to home A LOT more than previous years. Was wondering if you could do a comparison between this year and previous years.
Sure can. These numbers do not include last night’s game (couldn’t wait around for Baseball Reference to update overnight), but here are the team’s first-to-third numbers (small sample size, yadda yadda yadda):
|1st to 3rd Opps.||1st to 3rds||1st to 3rd %||Overall XB%|
Joe is correct, the Yankees have absolutely been going first-to-third more often this season. They’ve been taking the extra-base in general — score from second on a single, score from first on a double, etc. — more often as well. The league average for taking the extra-base is around 40% and the Yankees were a bit below that the last few years. This year they are well above-average.
The reason for the improvement is pretty obvious. Ellsbury, Yangervis Solarte, Kelly Johnson, and Brian Roberts are quicker than the guys they replaced, and both Jeter and Beltran are very smart base-runners who make up for their lack of speed with instincts. I think their first-to-third and overall extra-base rate will come down a bit as the season progresses just because guys will start to get tired and stuff like that, but they should still be quite a bit better than the last few years. Between all the defensive shifts and better base-running, this is a new breed of Yankees baseball.
Got seven questions for you this week. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week. Don’t be discouraged if I don’t pick your question. Usually it comes down to not having the room/time or simply not knowing the answer.
Chris asks: How about a trade for Chase Utley? Good idea and what might it take?
Yes, please. Forget about his insanely hot start — hitting .462/.517/.769 (247 wRC+) with seven doubles and three homers in 58 plate appearances — the 2011-12 version of Utley (112 wRC+) would do just fine for me. He’s a power hitting left-handed second baseman who draws a lot of walks and plays strong defense. He also has no platoon split and some experience playing first base. Oh, and he’s an elite base-runner even though he doesn’t steal as many bases as he once did. Utley would be a wonderful addition to any team, but especially the Yankees since they have a black hole a second base.
The problem is that Utley signed a two-year, $25M extension with the Phillies last season, taking a discount to remain with the team rather than test the free agent waters. Given the market, I think he could have gotten three or maybe even four guaranteed years as a free agent. I’m sure his hometown Dodgers would have been all over him. Utley has a partial no-trade clause and I have no idea what teams are included, but, more importantly, he’s beloved in Philadelphia and the only way the Phillies would trade him is as part of a total rebuild. I’d have no trouble giving up two top prospects to get him. Gary Sanchez and Manny Banuelos? Plus a third, lesser prospect? Fine by me. Utley would be a legitimate five or six win upgrade for the Yankees this year.
Aaron asks: If the D’Backs continue to struggle would the Yankees be more interested in Aaron Hill or Martin Prado?
Man, the Diamondbacks are just awful this year. The rotation especially. It could be historically bad. Both Hill and Prado would fit the Yankees’ need at second base, though they are different players who wind up providing similar value. Hill (7.3 fWAR from 2012-14) is more of a power hitter and average defender while Prado (7.8 fWAR from 2012-14) is a contact hitter and above-average defender. They are both owed similar money t00, $33M-35M through 2016. Prado can play third and left field, so he has that going for him. Either guy would work for the Yankees, but if I have to pick one, I’ll go with Prado because he does more things well and is two years younger. If either hits the trade market, the Yankees should be interested.
Daniel asks: If the Yankees are truly still not interested in Stephen Drew, is it because they are waiting to see what happens with the extension talks with the Dodgers and Hanley Ramirez? Or are they just trying to ride out what they have?
I don’t think the Yankees are waiting for Hanley and I don’t think they should. Sure, he’s a great player and all that, but it seems likely he will sign a huge extension with the Dodgers rather than test free agency after the season. They Dodgers have said they want to keep him, Ramirez has said he wants to stay, and reportedly the two sides have been talking about a contract. Besides, Hanley wouldn’t help the Yankees at all this year, and even if they did sign Drew, there would be room on the roster for both next season. At this point, I have to think there is something in Drew’s medicals that are scaring teams away. The state of the shortstop position around the league is too terrible for him to still be unemployed because of draft pick compensation.
Tom asks: Although it’s still rather early to even think about it, which free agents in next year’s class do you see the Yankees making a push for?
Hanley would be at the top of that list for pretty obvious reasons. The other big names are Max Scherzer, Chase Headley, and Pablo Sandoval. Since the team already has two huge pitching contracts on the books, I think they will steer clear of Scherzer. Headley seems more likely than Sandoval because the Yankees almost always lean towards the guy who walks and works the count. Plus I think there has to be at some concern Sandoval will eat himself out of the game if you give him $100M or so guaranteed. Here’s the list of free agents for the upcoming offseason. Other potential targets include J.J. Hardy, Asdrubal Cabrera, Aramis Ramirez, Chris Denorfia, Jason Motte, Luke Hochevar, and Luke Gregerson. That’s just my speculation, of course.
David asks: How excited can we get about Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka after these first
two three starts? They have both shown flashes of dominance (especially Big Mike) but to what extent do we need to temper expectations?
Get excited. Very excited. I’m more excited about Tanaka personally only because Pineda’s shoulder is still in the back of the my mind, and guys who have had arm problems tend to continue having arm problems throughout their career. Tanaka has a (much) deeper arsenal and isn’t as reliant on pure velocity as Pineda, which is another thing to consider. The best part is that this isn’t some one or the other hypothetical. Both are actually on the team. If you’re not going to get excited about these two 25-year-olds after these last few weeks, then what the hell is the point of it all?
Jack asks: Barring injury, who among the current five starting pitchers will be the first to be permanently replaced because of poor production? And when that happens who will be given the first shot at taking over the spot?
Let’s be realistic about this: CC Sabathia and Tanaka are not going anywhere because of their contracts. Hiroki Kuroda has earned a very long leash after the last two years and, given his first few starts, I have no reason to think his performance will fall off so much that the team wants to replace him. That leaves Pineda and Nova, and I guess it’s a toss up. Pineda seems more likely to be knocked out of the rotation by injury than poor performance, and Nova has already lost a rotation spot (2011 and 2013) due to poor performance. If I have to choose, I’ll say Nova. But I don’t think any of these guys loose their spots for anything but injury this year.
nycsportzfan asks: Hey Mike, was wondering if Joe Girardi wasn’t are manager and you could have anyone else in his place, who would it be? For me, it’d be Clint Hurdle.
I’m not sure. A big part of the manager’s job happens behind closed doors in the clubhouse, and we don’t know anything about that stuff. In terms of on-field moves, I’ve always felt Padres manager Bud Black does a really good job of putting his players in a position to succeed, either through pinch-hitters or reliever usage or whatever. Giants manager Bruce Bochy and Athletics manager Bob Melvin are both good at that stuff as well. I think you’d have to consider Joe Maddon and Buck Showalter as well. Gun to my head, I’d go with either Black or Melvin. I’ll say Melvin because he has experience managing in the AL.
Got seven questions in this week’s mailbag. A few other really good ones came in too, but I’m holding those back because I need more time to think about them. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us questions, links, comments, whatever.
Paul asks: Am I reading this FanGraphs article correctly? Yankees have gotten +25 strikes (from pitch-framing), a strike is worth .14 runs, 10 runs = 1 win, so the Yankees have gotten about 1/3 WAR from pitch-framing in the first week of the season? Or are these wins different from wins above replacement?
According to the article, the Yankees have gotten 25 extra strikes than expected due to pitch-framing so far this year, the most in baseball. That’s seems … reasonable, I guess? I don’t really know. Brian McCann is an elite pitch-framer and Frankie Cervelli has graded out well in his sporadic playing time over the years, so it stands to reason they would be near the top. That +25 strikes number is just an estimate in that post, remember.
Here is an older list of the run value of events, like singles and homers and sacrifice flies and a bunch of other stuff. It does not include called strikes though, so I’m not sure where that 0.14 runs per called strike number came from. I know Jeff Sullivan though and I trust he got it from somewhere reliable. So anyway, 25 extra strikes at 0.14 runs per strike works out to +3.5 runs total. FanGraphs says 9.386 runs equals one win these days, so the Yankees have “earned” 0.37th of a win through framing alone in 2014. That’s the straight forward math. A win is a win regardless of whether your starting point is replacement level or league average. In this case, the 25 extra strikes was compared to the league average.
There are two issues here, in my opinion. One, pitch-framing analysis still has a long way to go. I think it needs to be adjusted for umpire and for the pitcher, for starters. Maybe even treat it like a pitching stat and consider leverage. Two, that 0.14 runs per called strike number is an average for all situations, but not all called strikes are created equally. Turning a borderline pitch into a strike in a 3-2 count is more valuable than doing the same in a 3-0 count, for example. These win values we’re seeing from pitch-framing seem way too high to me — it’s basically the single most valuable thing in baseball, if you believe the numbers — but for a quick and dirty analysis, the FanGraphs stuff is fine. It’s interesting but I don’t think we can take these at face value yet.
JK5 asks: Do defensive metrics take ‘shifts’ into consideration? There was a play Jonathan Schoop (officially playing 3rd) made on a ball hit by McCann into shallow RF. Just reading the box score play-by-play would make one thing this play was a normal 5-3 putout, which it absolutely wasn’t. So Schoop’s range factor at 3b is helped by a ball hit nowhere near his normal position. So going forward, with increased ‘shifts’, are we gonna see sort of a manufactured rating for 3b (who are most often used as the primary ‘shifted’ fielder)?
Yes and no. Some defensive stats do recognize shifts, others don’t. As far as I know, UZR basically has an on/off switch. If there is no shift, the play is recorded the same way it always is. If the shift is on, the play is not recorded and ignored. DRS does not consider shifts and assumes the defender starts every the play wherever the league usually sets up at that position. That’s why Brett Lawrie had a good +4.5 UZR but an elite +20 DRS in 2012. UZR ignored all the times he was standing in shallow right on the shift while DRS thought he started all those plays at third base. I don’t know how (or if) Total Zone and FRAA handle shifts.
The problems are obvious here. With shifts becoming more prevalent, UZR is reducing its own sample size by ignoring plays with the shift. DRS is assuming third basemen have superman range, which is worse. That only adds to the uncertainty of defensive stats. I think they are best used directionally with a multi-year sample. They can give us an idea of who is good, who is bad, and who is average. The exact values though? I don’t think we can take them seriously. There’s no way you can say Shortstop A is a better defender than Shortstop B because he had a +5.7 UZR/+9 DRS from 2010-13 while the other guy was at +5.3 UZR/+7 DRS. They’re both good. Leave it at that.
Dan asks: If the Yankees even had an average infield in terms of range, do you think Joe would be employing the shift as much? Now that they are flipping the third baseman and Derek Jeter during the shift, if Jeter makes a play when he’s the only one on the left side of the infield would he be the third baseman for purposes of scoring the game? He is the player furthest to the left side of the infield. Finally, how do the advanced stats take shifts into account? Thanks.
Just answered that last part, conveniently. As for the other questions, yes, I absolutely think the Yankees would still be shifting as much if they have rangier infielders. Heck, they might shift more if they had more mobile defenders. Like I said yesterday, the shift is here to stay. You’re playing Super Nintendo while everyone else is on Playstation 4 if you’re not shifting.
As for the position stuff, the defensive stats recognize everyone as whatever position they are playing. Jeter would still be a shortstop in the example Dan gave in his question. That’s why Lawrie’s DRS was so high a few years ago. He was still considered a third baseman while standing in shallow right, not a second baseman.
Ben asks: Seems like early scouting reports on Dante Bichette Jr. suggested he would need to move to the OF at some point in his MiLB career. Seeing as how he is DH’ing so much due to the presence of Eric Jagielo, don’t you think now would be a good time to make the move? They’re not doing him any favors DH’ing him this regularly.
I think the bat is the most important thing for Bichette. He always was and always will be a bat-first prospect, and they have to get him to start hitting more than anything. (He went into last night’s game hitting .235/.458/.353 in six games.) They can stick him in left field or at first base a little later down the line. Right now, the most important thing is for Bichette to get his swing, his timing, his balance, his whatever else on track so he can produce at the plate. He is a huge reclamation project and they need to focus all their time and energy on his bat. It’s the most important thing for him.
Nick asks: If Aaron Judge and Jagielo tear it up do you think the Yankees should keep moving them up or let them finish the year at the level they are at?
Definitely move them up. They are two college hitters who spent three years as starters at major college programs. Those aren’t the guys you hold back. I fully expect Jagielo to end the year with Double-A Trenton and Judge to earn a promotion to at least High-A Tampa at some point. I think it’s possible he’ll go from Low-A Charleston to Tampa to Trenton this summer. I think the Yankees generally move their prospects a little too fast — ever notice how their prospects come to the big leagues still in need of refinement while the Cardinals and Rays call up guys who are so polished? Compare how much time they’ve spent in the minors — but these are two guys who should move up the ladder quick. Especially Jagielo.
Jeff asks: Would the Yankees be better served to have a quicker hook with CC Sabathia on the mound? I understand a lot of the value he has is as an innings eater, but it comes down to which would be better: ~200 league average or slightly below league average innings, or ~170-180 slightly above league average innings.
You know, I’m not sure. Is Sabathia at 90-100 pitches worse than, say, a fresh Dellin Betances or Vidal Nuno? I guess that depends on the day and how Sabathia has fared during those first 90 pitches. There is an obvious benefit to limiting his workload at this point, saving bullets and all that stuff, but an individual game is a different animal than the big picture. Even during his awful 2013 season, Sabathia really wasn’t less effective from pitches 76+ than he was from pitches 1-75. I know he got knocked around in the final inning of his start last week, but that’s one game. If the Yankees had a deeper and higher quality bullpen, I think the answer would be closer to yes. Since they don’t, I’m not sure.
Bill asks: The Yanks had three different players steal a base on Sunday, none of whom was Jacoby Ellsbury. When was the last time the Yanks had steals from four different players in the same game?
It’s actually not that uncommon and I didn’t think it would be. We’ve seen quite a few games in recent years where the Yankees just had the opponent’s battery down pat. They knew the pitcher’s move, knew the catcher’s arm, and were running wild. We saw it last Friday, when they stole four bases off Dustin McGowan in his 2.2 innings of work (and didn’t attempt another steal after he left the game).
Anyway, the Yankees have had at least four different players steal a base in a game 15 times this century, including six times in the last three years. They had six (!) different players steal a base in one game against the Red Sox just last September. Here’s the box score. Pretty clear they knew they could run on Ryan Lavarnway. Here is the list of all 15 games with at least four players stealing a base since 2000 for you to dig through.
Six questions in this week’s mailbag, so you know what that means: six answers. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week.
I really doubt the Nationals, who have World Series aspirations, would trade on of their ace setup men for a catching prospect who will only be a backup to Jose Lobaton while Ramos is out. If you’re going to shoot that high, I’d ask for Danny Espinosa instead. I’m confident the Yankees can cobble together a quality bullpen from internal options — Clippard or Storen, both of whom the Yankees drafted once upon a time, would obviously help though — but the infield cupboard is bare. You’re ambitious, The Yankees would have to add major sweeter to the pot to build a trade for one of those two righties around Murphy or especially Romine.
Jonathan asks: Dellin Betances has looked great out of the bullpen in ST and in the opener. Is the door closed to him ever competing for a spot in the rotation in the future?
I don’t think he’ll ever start another game in his career. The Yankees stuck it out and tried to make it work with Betances as a starter for a long time, but it never took. He’s had a lot of success in his relatively short time as a reliever and considering that he looked like a lost cause as recently as last April, I’d leave him right where he is and be happy he’s contributing. Betances has said the move to the bullpen helped him because it simplified things, remember. No need to get cute and try to make him a starter again.
Cory asks: Would it surprise you at all if any one of the starting five ended up being the best pitcher of the group this year? Or the worst? There’s a lot to be excited and worried about.
I would be surprised if Hiroki Kuroda ended up being the worst pitcher in the rotation, but that’s about it. The starting staff is very boom or bust in my opinion. It could be excellent, legitimately one of the best in the game, but there’s also a ton that could go wrong and make it one of the worst. The end result will probably be somewhere in the middle. Some things go right, some things go wrong. Such is life.
Anonymous asks: Let’s say the Yankees find some luck and have some of their minor league players come up and have success. Being that they broke their policy and signed Brett Gardner to an extension this year, do you see them signing more of their homegrown players to extensions that seem to be the norm around the league now?
Yes, definitely. Cashman confirmed the “no extensions” policy was a thing of the past after the Gardner deal and it has to be. The game has changed and keeping your own players is incredibly important. Relying on free agency to build your roster year after year won’t work like it did back in the day, when star players were available every winter. Heck, forget star players, even solid regulars are hard to find these days. Whenever the Yankees have another young player worthy of an extension (Ivan Nova? Michael Pineda?), I’m sure they will explore signing him long-term.
Warren asks: Thoughts on the Mike Trout deal? My initial reaction is seriously? How did he give up that much money especially in light of what Miguel Cabrera just got paid?
I thought it was fair for both sides. Maybe he left a couple bucks on the table, but he is still a player under team control with little leverage. He was going to be with the Angels the next four seasons no matter what. Cabrera was much closer to free agency when he signed his (crazy) deal the other week. Sure, Trout could have asked for ten years and $300M, but I’m not sure he would have gotten it. The Angels might not be in a position to make that sort of commitment right now. Trout has his generational long-term security and he still gets to hit free agency at 29. The Halos have the prime years of the best player in the world under contract. Seems pretty great for both sides.
Anonymous asks: (Regarding last week’s mailbag question about Derek Jeter‘s best teammates) I’d like to see this with best single season WAR during this era. Obviously Ryan remains on the bench. Do other positions change?
So I put together that teammate team for Jeter last week using bWAR accumulated during his career as a full-time player, so 1996 through 2013. Instead of using total WAR — I’m using bWAR because it’s easy to search and it’s perfect for a fun, quick-and-dirty exercise like this — we’ll now use single season bWAR. So the best season by a Yankees catcher during Jeter’s career, the best season by a first baseman, so on and so forth. My only playing time criteria is that the player played at least 50% of his games at whatever position in a given season.
Here’s the single-season bWAR team. Click on the links for the full results at each position:
- Catcher: 2003 Jorge Posada (5.9 bWAR)
- First Base: 2002 Jason Giambi (7.1)
- Second Base: 2012 Robinson Cano (8.4)
- Third Base: 2007 Alex Rodriguez (9.4)
- Left Field: 2010 Brett Gardner (7.3)
- Center Field: 2011 Curtis Granderson (5.7)
- Right Field: 1998 Paul O’Neill (5.8)
- Designated Hitter: 2009 Hideki Matsui (2.7)
- Bench: 2012 Chris Stewart (1.0), 2013 Jayson Nix (0.9), 2012 Eric Chavez (1.6), 2001 Shane Spencer (2.1),
- Rotation: 1997 Andy Pettitte (8.4), 2011 CC Sabathia (7.5), 2001 Mike Mussina (7.1), 1997 David Cone (6.8), 2006 Chien-Ming Wang (6.0)
- Bullpen: 1996 Mariano Rivera (5.0), 2011 David Robertson (4.0), 2004 Tom Gordon (4.0), 1997 Mike Stanton (2.8), 2012 Rafael Soriano (2.6), 2009 Phil Hughes (2.6), 2006 Scott Proctor (2.6)
Ryan doesn’t make the bench because Nix simply had more at-bats with the team last year and accumulated more WAR in pinstripes. Nix had 1.2 bWAR during his two years with the team but he played more games at third base (70) than shortstop (66), which is why I took Ryan as my backup shortstop on the other team. Got it? Good.
The shortstop for this team would be 1999 Jeter (8.0 bWAR), which isn’t very surprising. We could have taken 2005 A-Rod at third base instead of 2007 A-Rod since he had 9.4 bWAR both years, but yeah, I’m taking the guy who hit 54 homers, not the chump who only hit 48. Giambi actually had the best DH season (2.8 bWAR in 2006), but I didn’t want to use him at two positions. If I were to use the same player multiple times, there would be two Mussinas in the rotation plus pretty much the entire bullpen would be Mo. I also pick actually bench/part-time players for the bench.
Anyway, that team is pretty stacked. Granderson is the worst regular position player (by bWAR) and he hit .262/.364/.552 (142 OPS+) with 41 homers during that 2011 season. The gap between the top three reliever seasons and everyone else is pretty big — there were several Rivera seasons in the 3.something bWAR range — but it’s not surprising considering how dominant those three were in those years. The gap between 2002 Giambi the next best first baseman (2009 Mark Teixeira) is almost two full wins. That’s nuts. Then again, Giambi was a monster that year. What a team that is.
Eight questions this week, so I kept the answers relatively short. If you want to send us anything, use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.
Kevin asks: If Michael Pineda comes back and has a strong year, pitching ~150 innings, wouldn’t it make at least some sense to consider trading him for a young cost-controlled hitter instead of betting on his shoulder long-term?
Oh sure, absolutely. Given the team’s needs on the infield, it definitely makes sense to deal a pitcher with a major arm injury in his not-too-distant past for a young position player. Obviously there would be many more variables here. How does Pineda look in 2014? Do any prospects take a step forward and change the team’s long-term outlook? Stuff like that. Pitchers who have shoulder surgeries tend to continue having shoulder problems, so flipping Pineda for a young infielder next winter definitely makes sense. We just have to see how these next few months play out before we can know how realistic that is.
Dan asks: Let’s say that between being healthy and playing in Yankee Stadium, Jacoby Ellsbury‘s power numbers rebound to where he approaches his career highs, or at least becomes a legit 20 HR guy. Would Joe Girardi move him down in the lineup?
I think so, especially since they have Brett Gardner ready to step right into the leadoff spot. I don’t know if it would make sense to bat Ellsbury any lower than third, but I could see the lineup being Gardner, Derek Jeter, Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, so on and so forth at some point. I guess it depends how the rest of the offense is performing. There’s no harm in having a 20+ homer, 40+ steal leadoff man. That’s quite the table-setter.
Howie asks: I haven’t heard a word about Zelous Wheeler from anybody this spring. He was a good enough prospect for the Brewers to protect on their 40-man roster for a while, and it seems he’s been able to get on base throughout his career. He got a lot of ABs for the Yankees in spring training. Any word on him? Any chance the Yankees give him a call up at some point to see if he can play a major league 3B?
Wheeler, 27, has not even played a full season at Triple-A yet, believe it or not. Only 121 total games at the level across three seasons. Baseball America never once ranked him as one of Milwaukee’s top 30 prospects in their Prospect Handbook and that’s really saying something. The Brewers have had some awful farm systems in recent years. Wheeler has put up nice numbers at Double-A (.276/.377/.428 in 321 games) and decent numbers at Triple-A (.264/.342/.410 in 121 games), plus he’s had a monster spring (.287/.381/.486), so he’s on the map. I don’t think he’ll get much of a chance to help the big league team this year though, at least not without a ton of injuries. He’s at the very bottom of the depth chart it seems.
Nic asks: Ryan Roberts worth to pick-up this late in the spring?
I don’t think so. Roberts had a big year with the Diamondbacks in 2011, hitting .249/.341/.427 (109 wRC+) with 19 homers and 18 steals, but he’s only hit .238/.296/.364 (81 wRC+) in the two years since. That includes a .256/.304/.412 (95 wRC+) line against left-handers, so he e isn’t much of a platoon option. Roberts can play second and third, and the various defensive stats say he’s a good but not great gloveman. He’s very similar to Scott Sizemore and I don’t see much of a point of carrying two Scott Sizemores. One in Triple-A is enough. The Yankees went through all that trouble to acquire Dean Anna and they removed other players from the 40-man roster this winter in favor of him. I say let him play while Brendan Ryan‘s hurt. That’s what he’s there for.
Dylan asks: I’m pretty sure I’m the only guy that ever asks this or even cares, but can we get our yearly Pat Venditte update? I saw he was available multiple times but did he pitch this spring? Does he have a shot at getting called up this year? Ever?
Venditte had surgery on his right shoulder two years ago, and he returned last season to throw 28.2 innings at three different levels (3.45 ERA). He has been brought up to big league camp as an extra arm a few times this spring but hasn’t gotten into a game. Venditte is fully healthy now and throwing with both arms, and I think he’ll start the year with either Double-A Trenton or Triple-A Scranton. It might be Double-A because there are a ton of arms ticketed for Triple-A as it is. Venditte will turn 29 this summer, so he’s not some young prospect anymore. I don’t think he’ll get called up this year, but hey, he’ll be a minor league free agent next winter, so maybe another team will give him a shot. Since he’s gone unselected in the Rule 5 Draft several times, probably not.
Frank asks: I know it’s “only Spring Training” but something has to be said about the number of runs the Yankees have allowed this Spring. As of today, they’re only behind the Rays for fewest runs allowed. Yankee pitchers haven’t really got lit up this Spring. Encouraged?
It doesn’t mean anything. I know that’s the cliche but it’s true. A total of 33 pitchers have thrown a combined 266 innings for the Yankees this year, and, assuming Dellin Betances and Vidal Nuno get the last two bullpen spots, 124.2 of them have them have been thrown by guys who will not be on the big league roster. Almost half (46.9%, to be exact). Bruce Billings has thrown the same number of innings (8.1) as Hiroki Kuroda, just to drive the point home. (Kuroda’s thrown in minor league games a few times, hence the low innings total.) Remember, many of those innings were against hitters who won’t sniff MLB this year. It’s neat that the Yankees have pitched well this spring — they have the second most strikeouts (234) and second fewest walks (59) among all 30 teams — but ultimately it means nothing. Spring Training stats for one individual player mean little and they mean even less for a group of players.
Dustin asks: John Ryan Murphy for Marcus Semien. Would you do it? Would the White Sox do it?
Pretty sure I’d do it. Semien, 23, hit .284/.401/.479 with 19 homers, 24 steals, and more walks (98) than strikeouts (90) in 137 games between Double-A and Triple-A last year before getting a cup of coffee in September. He actually made his big league debut in Yankee Stadium. Here’s the box score. Baseball America (no subs. req’d) ranked him as the 91st best prospect in the game last month, and in their subscriber-only scouting report they said he has pushed “beyond his original utility profile” because he’s hit so much. Semien is said to fit best at second or third base, and given the Yankees’ need for both short and long-term infield help, he’d make a lot of sense. It is a bit of a concern that he was considered a future utility man as recently as 12 months ago, but not enough to deter me completely. The White Sox desperately need a catcher and Murphy would fit well for them. I don’t know if they’d pull the trigger though.
Jonathan asks: Since Jeter came into the league, what would be the best 25 man roster that could be put together by the collection of Yankees that have come and gone or are currently on the roster? (Lineup, Bench, Rotation, Bullpen)
The Play Index was made for stuff like this. Here is the highest bWAR at each position (min. 50% of games played) during Jeter’s career, starting in 1996, his first full season. Some of these are obvious (click the link on each position for the full results):
- Catcher: Jorge Posada (42.6 bWAR)
- First Base: Jason Giambi (22.0)
- Second Base: Robinson Cano (45.1)
- Third Base: Alex Rodriguez (52.5)
- Left Field: Hideki Matsui (20.4)
- Center Field: Bernie Williams (35.1)
- Right Field: Paul O’Neill (16.6)
- Designated Hitter: David Justice (3.6 WAR)
- Bench: Frankie Cervelli (2.9), Brendan Ryan (0.5), Miguel Cairo (2.0), Tim Raines (3.3)
- Rotation: Andy Pettitte (48.7), Mike Mussina (35.2), CC Sabathia (22.1), Roger Clemens (21.3), Orlando Hernandez (19.1)
- Bullpen: Mariano Rivera (56.4), Ramiro Mendoza (11.5), David Robertson (9.6), Mike Stanton (8.7), Joba Chamberlain (7.1), Tom Gordon (7.0), Jeff Nelson (6.5)
If you’d rather use the second best player at one of the other positions than Justice at DH, it would be Brett Gardner (19.3). I’d put him in left and Matsui at DH for obvious reasons. If you want a second lefty in the bullpen, Boone Logan (3.2) would replace Nelson. I picked actual bench/part-time players for the bench and yes, during the Jeter era, Ryan has the second highest bWAR among Yankees shortstops. Crazy.
That’s a pretty excellent team otherwise, no? Not like we should have expected anything different. Nice mix of dynasty guys and more recent players, though not so much on the pitching staff. Only three guys on that staff joined the team after 2006. Of course, the more recent guys haven’t had as much time to accumulate bWAR. Anyway, there’s a the rest of the team around Jeter.
Huge mailbag this week. Nine questions and nearly 2,000 words. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week.
Terry asks: With Jimmy Rollins seeming fallen out of favor with Ryne Sandberg and the Phillies, do you think it would make sense to see if the Yankees to put together some sort of trade package together with Ichiro Suzuki being the centerpiece? Do you think he would be open to playing 2B? He’d have to be an upgrade over Brian Roberts and would allow him to become a role player. They could be held relatively healthy by splitting 2B and now there is a SS back up that can hit.
Rollins and Sandberg had a bit of a falling out earlier this spring — Sandberg benched him for four straight Spring Training games to send a message, believe it or not — and there has been some talk that the team may try to trade him. Rollins told Todd Zolecki the rumors don’t bother him though; he has 10-and-5 rights and can veto any trade. Maybe he’d be willing to accept a trade to join the veteran-laden Yankees, who knows. He wouldn’t be the first long-term someotherteam to do it (Ichiro and Lance Berkman).
There are four problems with the 35-year-old Rollins. One, he just isn’t that good of a hitter anymore, putting up a .252/.318/.348 (84 wRC+) line last season. Two, he has 0.1 career innings at second base (in 2002) and would have to learn the position on the fly. Three, he’s owed $11M this year and his $11M option for 2015 vests with only 434 plate appearances this season. Four, he’s kind of a jerk with a tendency to run his mouth (remember this?). The Yankees seem to actively avoid those players. Would he be an upgrade over Roberts? Probably. Is he worth the headache? Probably not.
Dan asks: What does the Glen Perkins extension mean for David Robertson? Also, why would the Twins sign him to that? They already had him for this season, next season, and a team option for 2016. Now they not only raised his salaries for the next three years, they guaranteed the team option and one additional year for $6.5m each.
That Perkins contract (four years, $22.175M with a club option) is a freakin’ steal. He’s a local guy from just outside the Twin Cities, so it definitely seems like he took a hometown discount. Perkins is an elite reliever and probably the second best lefty bullpener in the game behind Aroldis Chapman. Even if he slips and he becomes just a lefty specialist down the line, his highest annual salary during the life of this deal is $6.5M in both 2017 and 2018. That’s just about Boone Logan money.
Because he took such a big discount, Perkins’ extension doesn’t mean anything for Robertson. Robertson will make more this season ($5.125M) as a third year arbitration-eligible setup man than Perkins will as an All-Star closer both this year ($4.025M) and next ($4.65M). Perkins would have been a free agent this past offseason had he not signed his previous extension, and I’m guessing he would have gotten three or four years at $10-12M annually on the open market, even at age 31. Basically double his extension. The Twins did it because it was simply too good to pass up.
Chris asks: When will we know if the Yankees are going to get Tommy Kahnle back via the Rule 5 Draft process? I am hopeful that we will get him back, as he would seem to be a strong asset to have.
There is no set date for Rule 5 Draft players, they can be returned at any point between now (really the first day of Spring Training) and the final game of the regular season. I wrote our Rockies season preview at CBS (shameless plug) and their bullpen is pretty stacked. There’s no room for Kahnle unless someone else gets hurt or traded. He’s thrown 6.1 good innings this spring but nothing that leads you to believe he’s forcing his way into the team’s plans. If Kahnle doesn’t make the Rockies, he’ll have to clear waivers before being offered back to the Yankees. I’m not sure he’ll ever be anything more than an up-and-down arm without a big improvement in his command.
Mickey asks: Assuming things play out with Michael Pineda in the fifth spot and Vidal Nuno stretched out in AAA as the sixth starter, how many times could he be called up without passing through waivers this season and who would/could be sent down to accommodate such a move?
As many times as the team wants. Minor league options really refer to option years. Players get three of them (sometimes four for weird reasons), meaning they go back and forth between MLB and the minors in three different seasons without having to pass through waivers. The Yankees burned one of Nuno’s options last season but can still send him (or any of the other fifth starter candidates for that matter, they have at least one option left) up and down as much as they want in 2014. I suspect that last open bullpen spot will be a revolving door this year. It always is.
Bill asks: Is Francisco Cervelli more valuable to the team being their backup catcher to start the season, or as trade-bait for an upgrade elsewhere?
I think he’s more valuable to the Yankees. A week or two ago when we heard teams are scouting him, we also heard the likely return would be another out of options player. Nothing great. They won’t be able to flip him for Derek Jeter‘s long-term replacement at shortstop or anything. Cervelli has hit this spring and he hit last year before getting hurt. With his trade value down, I think you take him into the season and see what happens. His trade value couldn’t drop much further, but if the bat is legit, it could go up quite a bit. Unless someone blows the team away with an offer (Chris Owings? Please? Maybe?), I’d hang onto Frankie.
Stephen asks: I noticed in your latest post on Jorge Mateo you mentioned he is an 80 runner on the 20-80 scale (that dude must be fast!). Is this common? Are there any (recent or not) Yankee prospects that rank 80 out of 80 on any tools? Was Randy Johnson’s slider an 80? Pedro Martinez’s change up? Etc?
There are a bunch of good primers on the 20-80 scouting scale out there, but here’s a good one from Prospect Insider. Long story short: 20 is terrible, 80 is elite, and 50 is average. Sometimes you’ll see half-grades like a 55 or 75 of whatever. 80s are very rare though and are not thrown around all that often.
Baseball America started including 20-80 grades for individual tools in their Prospect Handbook back in 2011, but for each organization’s top prospect only. Here are all the 80s:
- 2014: Rockies RHP Jonathan Gray’s fastball, Twins OF Byron Buxton’s speed and defense, Nationals RHP Lucas Giolito’s fastball
- 2013: Reds OF Billy Hamilton’s speed, Twins 3B Miguel Sano’s power, Pirates RHP Gerrit Cole’s fastball
- 2012: Angels OF Mike Trout’s speed, Giants OF Gary Brown’s speed, Cole’s fastball
- 2011: Reds LHP Aroldis Chapman’s fastball, Nationals OF Bryce Harper’s power and arm, Trout’s speed
The Yankees drafted both Gray (2011 tenth round) and Cole (2008 first round) but did not sign them, in case you forgot. /sobs
Anyway, that’s it. Fourteen 80 tools in four years worth of top prospects. Five tools per prospect and 30 prospects per year gives us 600 tools total, meaning 2.3% graded out at 80s. Sounds about right. Like I said, 80s are rare and saved for the truly elite. Also, I think it’s interesting that ten of those 14 tools above are speed or fastball, things that can be quantified with a stop watch and radar gun. Saying someone has an 80 hit tool or 80 changeup is much more subjective.
I can’t think of any recent Yankees farmhand with an 80 tool, except for Mateo, I guess. Baseball America had Jesus Montero with both 70 power and 70 hit in 2011, which is pretty close. Brett Gardner is much closer to 65-70 speed than 80. As for big leaguers, I think both Mariano Rivera and Greg Maddux had 80 command, though I am no scout. Barry Bonds had 80 power, Tony Gwynn had an 80 hit tool, Pedro’s changeup was probably an 80, ditto Randy Johnson’s slider. I remember reading a Keith Law post (or maybe it was one of his chats, I forget) saying Justin Verlander had an 80 fastball and 80 curveball during his peak.
I don’t believe there’s an 80 tool on the Yankees right now. Ichiro Suzuki used to be an 80 hitter, no doubt about that. Jacoby Ellsbury is more of a 70 runner than a true 80. Maybe Brian McCann‘s pitch-framing is an 80? He’s excellent at it according to the various metrics, but those are still works in progress.
Frank asks: I see Bryan Mitchell is on the Scranton AAA roster. Seems somewhat surprising, so is he closer to the show than we were led to believe? Is it true that his “new” cutter has possibly propelled him to the top of the pitching prospect class?
I gotten a few questions like this. Don’t read anything into the level a player is assigned when he’s cut from big league camp. That’s only their Spring Training work group. They can be assigned to different levels before the start of the season and most of them well. Mitchell pitched well in camp and he does indeed have a new cutter, but he made only three starts at Double-A Trenton last season. That’s where he’ll head for the start of 2014.
Eric asks: Mason Williams for Wilmer Flores?
I think both teams would say no, actually. The Mets need infielders and Flores is their top MLB-ready youngster — they have him working out at short this spring, something he hasn’t done since 2011 — so I’m not sure they would give him up for a Double-A outfielder coming off a bad season, even if said outfielder’s ceiling is high. I think the Yankees would say no because it’s an underwhelming return for a guy who was arguably their top prospect 12 months ago. I’m skeptical of Flores because he spent parts of six seasons trying to get out of Single-A, and it wasn’t until he got to ultra-hitter friendly Triple-A Last Vegas last summer that he re-established himself as a prospect. Trading an outfield prospect for a young infielder makes sense, but I don’t think Flores would be the guy to target.
Jack asks: I don’t understand why Pineda is considered to have more “upside” than David Phelps inasmuch as at this point Phelps’ fastball is probably a couple ticks higher and his control is markedly better. While Pineda supposed has a better breaking pitch does that one factor offset Phelps’ advantages in velocity and control? At best/worst, their upsides are probably similar.
I disagree that Phelps’ fastball is a couple ticks higher — it definitely isn’t based on this spring alone — and that his control is better. What separated Pineda from most young pitchers was his ability to pound the zone and his throw strikes, something he’s done this spring following shoulder surgery. Their minor league walk rates are identical (2.1 vs. 2.2 BB/9) and Pineda has the advantage at the MLB level (2.9 vs. 3.5 BB/9), for what it’s worth. Pineda has more upside because he’s 28 months younger and because his slider is far better than anything Phelps throws. The shoulder injury might have knocked Pineda’s ultimate ceiling down a notch or three, but Phelps pretty much is what he is. That’s not to say he’s bad, just that he might not be anything more than a back-end arm. Just watch the two, the difference in upside is obvious. You can really dream on Pineda.